Insights from the NSSDS

Do you remember the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat?

From the movie Alice In Wonderland

Alice:  “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”

Cat:  “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to”

Alice:  “I don’t much care where”

Cat:  “Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk”

Alice:  “…so long as I get somewhere”

Cat:  “Oh, you’re sure to do that if you only walk long enough!”

This is how the National Sunday School Director’s Seminar opened last weekend, by taking a look at the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.  Why? Because many Sunday Schools suffer from a similar affliction – the lack of direction that Alice seemed to have.  They wander from week to week without fully understanding their purpose and mission.  They’re going somewhere, but they’re not sure just where.

I had the privilege of teaching with a team of leaders at the NSSDS (National Sunday School Director’s Seminar).  LifeWay is sponsoring 17 of them in 2012, and they are making a real difference for Pastors, Sunday School Directors, and Ministers of Education – whoever is responsible for leading the work of the Sunday School in the church.

The team taught from 8:30-3:30, and over the course of the day-long training event, I learned several lessons as I spoke with Sunday School leaders.  Perhaps you’ll be encouraged by one or more of these.

1.  Sunday School is alive and well.  The leaders who attended the NSSDS are proud of this time-honored ministry and they are using it as their “step 2” in assimilating people into the church.  No one at this training event is even close to calling off Sunday School in lieu of another philosophy of Bible study.

2.  Leaders of all sizes of Sunday Schools are looking for help.  At one point in the seminar we asked people to identify themselves by the size of their Sunday School membership.  One the low end was one church with 70 members; on the high end, a couple of churches with over 1,000 in membership.  The majority were in between these two extremes…probably Sunday Schools in the range of 400-500 people.  While the challenges these Sunday Schools face are similar in many ways,  they do have unique needs…and they need help.  But the good news is that help exists, and good leaders were seeking to become great leaders through the training provided.

3.  Sunday Schools would benefit from annual planning.  At the NSSDS, we spent time during the final session walking leaders through an exercise in creating an annual plan for their Sunday School.  We had them identify strengths, weaknesses, needs, and victories.  We led them to prioritize their lists, and showed them how to create action steps, due dates, and delegate the work to others.  Most of the churches present had never conducted this kind of detailed planning for their Sunday School, but all agreed that it will benefit their Sunday School for the future.  I know that many classes will begin to set and achieve goals as a result of what their Directors learned during this exercise.

4.  Some classes are choosing their own curriculum.  I spoke with several Sunday School directors who lamented the fact they are fighting battles with Sunday School classes that are set on choosing their own curriculum.  Some classes want “deeper” study, others don’t like the idea of following a prescribed curriculum.  But all of the directors realize that this leads to a great imbalance in the materials being studied (one class has been in the book of Acts for over 18 months).  Sunday School directors were encouraged by me to lead…to set a curriculum plan for their adult Sunday School classes, and then stick to their guns.  I told one director that no other education system in America allows the students to tell the dean what they will study!  Why should this be the case in Sunday School where we study the riches of God’s Word?  Classes need guidelines and leadership from their church staff and/or Sunday School Director…give it to them!  Stress the benefits of using what we now call “ongoing Bible study curriculum.”

5.  Flake’s Formula still works.  Arthur Flake was an early pioneer in Sunday School work, and he led the Baptist Sunday School Board to help churches know how to grow and expand their ministries…and he did this back in the 1920s and 1930s.  He was a salesman prior to working as the first Director of Sunday School at the old BSSB (now known as LifeWay).  He developed a 5-step formula for growing a Sunday School, and I was surprised that many of the attendees at the Sunday School Director’s Seminar had not heard about these simple but profound steps.  (1) Know your possibilities (2) Enlarge the organization (3) Enlist and train workers (4) Provide the space (5) Go after the people.  If you’d like to download a free copy of the book 5 Step Formula for Sunday School Growth, go to the iBook store and do a quick search…it’s a free download, and I carry it on my iPad wherever I go.  I was encouraged to hear of churches that were using this simple formula to grow their Sunday Schools.  Hopefully, many more will now use it since they became aware of it last weekend.

If you ‘d like to know more about the National Sunday School Director’s Seminar and how you and your Sunday School could benefit, click here to go to an information page at lifeway.com.

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